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Who’s Popular Now?

Fame and popularity: what are they worth?

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To encourage us to consider the importance of popularity (SEAL theme: self-awareness).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.

  • The London Evening Standard interview that is mentioned in the first part of the assembly was published on March 4, 1966. More details about it are available at: http://tinyurl.com/bj58a4k

Assembly

Leader: Fifty years ago, in August 1966, the Beatles began what was to become their last live tour, around the major cities of the USA. Intended as a huge celebration of ‘Beatlemania’, the tour ended up in a series of controversies and threats. The Beatles never toured again.

It all began five months earlier when Maureen Cleave, a journalist for the London Evening Standard, interviewed John Lennon as part of a regular series in the newspaper. During the interview, Lennon expressed the following opinion.

Reader 1:Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ’n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.’

Leader: In 1960s Britain, this wasn’t a totally unusual point of view. Church attendances had declined and religion wasn’t as popular a topic of conversation as the Beatles were. Maureen Cleave’s article was soon forgotten. However, in order to publicize the Beatles’ US tour, an American magazine republished the article together with interviews with Paul, George and Ringo. In the southern states of the US, there was uproar. It was Lennon’s statement that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus that particularly caused a backlash in these deeply Christian communities.

Reader 2: Some radio stations stopped playing Beatles tracks. Beatles records were publicly burned. Threats were made against members of the band. Gigs were picketed by protesters, including the very public presence of members of the Ku Klux Klan. When the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, attempted to cool things down by calling press conferences to emphasize that no offence had been intended, the press conferences themselves were boycotted.

Leader: And all of this was over the question of popularity.

Time for reflection

Leader: How important is popularity to you?

Reader 1: It’s good to feel popular. It makes us feel valued and it boosts our self-image. Being popular can give us influence, because people tend to turn first to those who are popular when there is a crisis or a problem. Popularity also gets us attention. We are at the centre of what is going on rather than on the periphery.

Leader: Doubtless, popularity can do a lot for us. But maybe some people have an advantage over others in the popularity stakes. Sometimes, it seems that the most obviously popular students are those who are loud, funny, physically attractive and successful in some way. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does tend to undervalue those people who are quiet, maybe even withdrawn, but have huge resources of empathy, supportiveness, trustworthiness and stability. A good way to test this out is to consider who you would want at your side when the going gets tough. Would it be the obviously popular student you know or would it be someone else, someone rather lower in the popularity stakes?

Reader 2: So how do I get to be popular?

Leader: That’s difficult, because popularity changes so quickly. We are often very happy to build someone up and acclaim their popularity, but when they fail in some way, or embarrass themselves, their fall from favour is dramatic and we can quickly go off them. Maybe that’s why, on social media, people usually post their successes, their interesting experiences and photos of their best side – they desperately want others to like and admire them. Trying to stay popular becomes a delicate balance, and even becomes a full-time occupation for some.

So let me go back to John Lennon’s original statement. Does it matter that, in 1966, the Beatles were more popular than Jesus? Did Jesus consider popularity important? If we look at what Jesus said and did, we get a rather topsy-turvy view of life. He certainly was a dramatic performer, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand with his stories and miraculous actions. Yet he deliberately chose to spend much of his time with those who were the rejects of society, the outcasts, the weak, those without representation or influence. He himself rejected opportunities to side with those who held power. He made himself unpopular with the rich, the learned and the important religious leaders. As he painted a picture of the Kingdom of God, it was a place where a beggar had the best seat at the table, the last in the queue would go to the front and a young child would be the leader. I don’t believe popularity was a concern at all for Jesus.

Reader 1: So what did matter to Jesus?

LeaderJesus was interested in the deeper aspects of character, the ones that don’t get profiled. He emphasized traits such as truth, reconciliation, peace, love, integrity and justice. And if all this seemed too much for his followers to achieve, Christians believe that God promised always to be there to help them.

Reader 2: So maybe trying to be popular isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ of life. When the chips are down, I think I’d rather have someone at my side who is like the people Jesus was talking about.

Prayer
Dear Lord,
Thank you for those we can rely on.
Remind us of who they are and show us how to show our gratitude.
May we be such people for those around us, whether we are popular or not.
Amen.

Song/music

A favourite Beatles track.

Publication date: August 2016   (Vol.18 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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